“Look at this cotton saree, Amma. It is called the Chedi Butta. Have you heard of it?” I questioned my mother as she shook her head.
Quaint Sunday afternoons were the best time to open up a conversation with my parents. Usually there is a fattening brunch followed by a perusal of the upcoming weeks’ plans or a siesta.
“It is the first time I am hearing of it” my mother replied without lifting her head up from her weekly magazine, “I hope you are not planning to buy any more sarees. There is hardly any space in the wardrobe!” she added sternly. I pouted back at her.
“In our hometown” my father began his eyes bright as he reminisced about his birthplace, “there are the Pattunoolkaara who weave this saree. They are from Saurashtra and I know few of these families”
“These sarees are from Veeravanallur?!” I was excited. “Tell me Appa, what you know about them” I implored as he began his story.
The weavers of the Chedi butta originally hail from Saurashtra (peninsular region of Gujarat, India, located on the Arabian Sea coast). What made them migrate from their homes to settle in South India?
The Kathiawar region of Saurashtra was a constant target of invaders from the east. It was widely theorized that those invasions led them to migrate to peaceful places in the North, Centre and South of India.
In the South, the Saurashtrians settled in regions around Madurai the then capital of the Nayak Dynasty. Their community spread around to Trichy, Salem, Kumbakonam and Veeravanallur in Thirunelveli district. Those early settlers were involved in weaving silk; hence they were popularly called as the Pattunoolkaara (Pattunool-silk thread, kaara-the people).
Eventually I purchased my first Chedi Butta saree for Ugadi (Telugu New Year day). This sari is woven mainly with art silk and cotton yarn. It has plant motifs (Chedi means plant in Tamizh) with little buttas woven in the weft. Being lightweight they are suitable for casual wear and are easy to maintain.